I can’t remember if I’ve used this image before or not, so if I have, here it is again!
Partially inspired by the discussion on this post and partially inspired by being really bored at work and thinking back to a conversation with a coworker whom I explained the literary/artistic value of comics in general and manga/anime in specific, I’ve determined that the problem with the world isn’t, as is traditionally assumed by members of the older generation, that kids aren’t reading as much, so much as kids aren’t being educated in the art of thinking critically of works of literary/artistic merit they take in. Of any form, be it live-action film, a novel, a picture book, animation, or what have you. This, of course, leads to a group of people who simply consume anime (or other things, but this is an anime blog) simply because they have nothing better to do with their time. It’s faintly disturbing.
I think the root of the problem is the education system, which presents students with books to read for class and then mandatory outside reading, which is universally loathed by all students. There’s a clear distinction between books for class (which are used to teach analytical principles, presumably) and books for pleasure reading (which are usually selected, at least in my hometown, from a list provided by Scholastic’s Accelerated Reader program, which reduces the literary merit of a book to a single abstract point value). The distinction between the two is clear–students are tested on how well the analyse the former, whereas the latter they’re frequently tested on whether or not they actually paid attention while reading the book. This is especially the case for the aforementioned Accelerated Reader program, which include only plot-related questions on their tests, and no analytical.
“So,” you find yourself asking, “what does this have to do with anime?” Lots! If students are brought up in an environment that encourages outside reading, yet only tests the student’s comprehension of plot details, this leads to them viewing all outside entertainment as simply vehicles for casual entertainment or, worse if you happen to be the reading sort, a utter loathing of the very act of reading. If a student views outside of class reading only on the superficial level so they can pass the test, wouldn’t this extend to all of their outside entertainment? The teachers may be teaching the students how to analyze a book, but they aren’t teaching them to do this on their own. And, therefore, when our hypothetical student encounters anime in the outside world, s/he views it not as a potential object of study, but rather as a cheap way to get some entertainment.
If anime merely means cheap entertainment to someone, then, of course, fansubs are the cheapest way to get anime, but I’m not setting foot into the dangerous waters of fansub legaity issues (my stance is “watch fansubs, buy DVDs”, for those interested, and in all honesty TRSI probably has a small shrine dedicated to me and my loyal DVD buying habits, because I have the nasty feeling that if I stopped buying anime DVDs the industry would collapse in short order. Unless it’s not as bad as Daryl Surat makes it sound like it is). The natural logic stemming from this is that anime is “just TV” and isn’t meant to be something to take seriously. The fact of the matter is, though, that anything can be taken seriously. I’m a firm believer in the fact that even the most banal and generic book, TV show, movie, whatever, can be critically thought about in some way. Granted, there probably aren’t a lot of blogs devoted to literary criticism of Law & Order episodes, but that’s not the point. The point is, anything, in any medium, that tells a story can serve as the inspiration for further thought on the issues it raises. You can be spurred to profound thought from a children’s picture book (Dr. Seuss is infamous for this) or through Russian literature or through a work of genre fiction. And drawing inspiration from a work counts as well; I know I’ve drawn inspiration from strange places before, and it gets you thinking, which is good no matter where it comes from.
It doesn’t matter what you enjoy, as long as you at least spend some time thinking about it. You certainly don’t have to be the next Harold Bloom (but you wouldn’t want to be Harold Bloom as that implies that you have some sort of bizarre sexual preoccupation with the Bard), or even have something particuarly profound to say, or a life-changing revelation. And, yes, I know not everyone is trained in the fine art of literary analysis; I know I certainly haven’t been, or at least, haven’t been extensively trained in this art, a fact probably reflected in my usual posting fare. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you think, how you think it, or even if you’re having an original thought. You’re thinking about things, and putting the work into the greater context of what it means to be human, whether it be being inspired by an anime character to improve or better your life, or complex doctoral thesis statements on Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. And actively watching is always good, and even if you don’t actively watch every series you watch (it would be somewhat hard to actively watch, say, Rosario + Vampire, I admit), there’s always that one work out there that seems to speak directly to you and only you. So give it a shot. It’s fun, maybe, I promise!